For the past three weeks, the Green Bay Packers’ starting running back has been James Starks, the 30-year-old veteran backup.
Starks is averaging 2.5 yards per carry on the year. He’s also coming off his busiest game of the year, in which he had 17 carries for 41 yards game (2.4 average) against the Eagles.
These are dismal numbers. It’s also visually apparent that Starks has lost a good deal of his speed. He no longer breaks tackles as before and he can’t seem to find any daylight to run to.
With a very good offensive line and with defenses having to focus on the passing prowess of Aaron Rodgers, 2.5 yards per carry is pathetic. It doesn’t even make defenses respect or bite on play-action fakes to a running back.
Christine Michael’s Last 10 Games As a Starter
After searching the entire preseason and half of the regular season, the Packers have — by dumb luck — acquired a viable alternative running back. Christine Michael was picked up by the Packers two weeks ago. He is not your garden variety practice squad player or midseason castoff. His athleticism and potential have been previously highlighted.
Michael started Seattle’s final two regular season games of 2015 and also their narrow 10-9 playoff win against the Vikings. In these three important contests, Michael had 16 carries for 84 yards, 17 carries for 102 yards and 21 carries for 70 yards – a commendable 4.7 average.
This year, Michael started seven games for the Seahawks and he averaged 4.0 yards per rush. He also caught 19 passes in those games. He then lost the job to Thomas Prosise, a promising rookie out of Notre Dame. Prosise had 17 carries against New England two weeks ago, though only for a 3.9-yard average. Thomas Rawls, who was expected to be the team’s top running back this year, then returned from injury and assumed the starter’s role. He averaged only 3.2 yards per rush in Seattle’s last game, a 14-5 loss to Tampa Bay — and he’s only averaging 2.7 yards per rush on the year.
In sum, over his last 10 starts, Michael has run for 703 yards on 161 carries – an average of 4.37 yards per carry. He’s done this as the lead rusher on a perennial Super Bowl contending team.
And that’s not all. He’s done it despite running behind what is arguably the league’s least experienced and least talented blocking unit. In that loss to Tampa Bay, the Seahawks started three rookies — a first-rounder, a sixth-rounder and an undrafted player. The most experienced of Seattle’s five starting linemen is tackle Bradley Sowell, who went undrafted in 2012 and has started just 18 games in the ensuing five years.
Will McCarthy Put Michael to Use?
Here’s what coach Mike McCarthy has to say about his newest running back:
“It’ll be nice to have him part of the rotation… We’ve just got to continue to work and plan. He’s fitting really nice. I’m glad he’s here, that’s for sure.”
Aaron Rodgers also has glowing words for Michael:
“He’s yet to be seen exactly in this offense, but what he’s done in other offenses has been pretty spectacular. I mean, he’s scored six touchdowns this year, which obviously would put him first on our squad,” Rodgers said this week. “He’s a change-of-pace back, very quick, very athletic, and he’s happy to be here… I’m excited about getting him out there.”
Given these comments, it’s safe to say Christine Michael is going to get loads of snaps against Houston, right? Sorry fans, nothing is safe to say based on McCarthy quotes. The above two statements were made on the Friday before the game against the Eagles – the game in which Michael’s “part of the rotation” consisted of one handoff for a four-yard gain.
Until I see Michael charging into Texans’ defenders with my own eyes, I’m just going to add him to the apparently endless list of running backs (Brandon Burks, Jhurell Pressley, Don Jackson, Knile Davis) who the Packers pursue and then fail to utilize. Michael, however, is a cut above this group. That’s not speculation – he’s proven it on the field… and Starks has proven quite the opposite.